A confident Simon Yates was asked what he’d be thinking if he was one of his rivals for victory in the Giro d’Italia “I would be scared, I’d be shitting myself.”
Now try putting that statement in Chris Froome’s mouth. Never happen, not in a million years. Therein lies the thrill of Yates, an unscripted personality not afraid to venture beyond the generic sports banality.
Yates is certainly making no bones about his “unfinished business” feelings for a Giro he had all but won last year before his unexpected implosion and Froome’s unexpected long-range attack. Froome is not a fascinating quote but knows how to ride to win.
Still, it’s refreshing to hear that the lost art of the bold statement has not been lost. Yates was honest about his Italian disaster last year and equally open about his ambitions for this year’s edition.
“I’ve been thinking about this race for almost 12 months, I’m very focused, I’m been very dedicated towards it,” said Yates. Twelve months is a long time to focus and the Briton sounds like he has been, to quote an old Armstrong line, in “elevated monk status” for a solid year. Which to us also sounds like a depressing lack of beer.
Tour contenders generally front load every statement of intent with the word “hopefully.” There’s always a hedge, a guarded optimism, a need to shift the pressure to another rival. Yates is having none of that, physically pointing the finger at himself in the press conference and announcing the favorite as none other than himself.
There’s also a wonderful clarity and succinctness about Yates. Ask a direct question, get a direct answer, with no effort to dilute for soften the blow. Asked if he would switch to a time trial bike for the uphill section of the opening time trial, he laid out his strategy: “No.”
Much has been made of Yates learning the hard lesson of being overly aggressive in last year’s Giro, burning himself out a few stages too early to win the final maglia rosa. He’s promised to race more conservatively starting tomorrow in Bologna.
What’s gratifying is that while Yates may become more conservative in the Giro, he’s still loose and spontaneous in a press conference.